International Ski Federation says Birds of Prey World Cup races in Beaver Creek are on track for early December
November 17, 2017
BEAVER CREEK — The Beaver Creek Birds of Prey races received the official imprimatur of positive snow control from the International Ski Federation (FIS) on Friday, Nov. 17.
In English, that means FIS officials went to the course on Friday, saw that it was in good shape and gave the go-ahead for this year's World Cup events in Beaver Creek, starting on Tuesday, Nov. 28, after warm weather forced a cancelation of the races last year.
"The forecast was always in our favor," said Tom Boyd, chief of media for the Birds of Prey World Cup races. "We started making snow in October. As to the extent that one can forecast out, the weather always looked good. The question was, 'Will that forecast hold out?'"
And as if to reinforce FIS' decision, the snow started to dump all over the county Friday night.
While Vail postponed its opening from Friday, Nov. 17, to Thursday, Nov. 23, because of a lack of snow, the snow used to make the Birds of Prey racecourse is different from what most skiers at Vail and Beaver Creek like to ski on recreationally.
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The best skiers in the world don't like Colorado's signature powder. World Cup courses are designed to be icy and slick and are injected with water to amplify those affects. Natural snow isn't required to build a course. Cold temperatures for man-made snow are.
That's the difference between last year and this one. Last year was unseasonably warm in Eagle County. According to accuweather.com., the daily low temperature in Avon was below freezing for only 12 of the 31 days during October 2016. The daytime high temperature on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, was 71 degrees.
Just before FIS canceled the 2016 Birds of Prey on Friday, Nov. 18, of that year, it had been 70 degrees in Avon earlier in the week.
Fast-forward to October 2017, and 24 of the 31 daily lows were below freezing, according to accuweather.com. While there hasn't been as much snow as powderhounds like, the thermometer has continued to stay low, particularly at night, so far in November.
And that's been good news for the minions of workers on the Birds of Prey course, whose base is roughly at 8,900 feet at Red Tail Camp.
"It's apples and oranges," said Boyd of the difference between racing snow and the recreational surface. "We love snow from the sky, but if you ask racers, they like snow from the (snow) gun better."
With positive snow control, the 2017 Birds of Prey slate is set. After racing up in Lake Louise, Alberta, a downhill and super-G, during Thanksgiving weekend, the men's circuit heads to Beaver Creek.
The racers will have two downhill training runs during a three-day period from Tuesday through Thursday, Nov. 28-30. The race weekend kicks off with super-G on Friday, Dec. 1, followed by the downhill on Saturday, Dec. 2, and giant slalom on Sunday, Dec. 3.
If history is any indication, the World Cup races in Beaver Creek generate spell-binding storylines.
Back in 2015, Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal won the downhill at Beaver Creek, ahead of teammate Kjetil Jansrud. Not only was it Svindal's fifth win at Beaver Creek, but it presaged the rise of the Norwiegans during the 2015-16 season.
Traditionally dwarfed by Austria, Switzerland and Italy, Norway ended up having four racers in the top 10 of the overall points during that campaign.
From there, Austria's Marcel Hirscher took over the 2015 Birds of Prey, winning both the super-G and the giant slalom. The best technical skier of his generation, Hirscher shocked the World Cup world with his win in super-G over none other than home-crowd favorite Ted Ligety.
Hirscher's win in GS was not so much of surprise. The Austrian was on his way the fifth of his six consecutive overall globes during the 2015-16 season. What stunned the partisan American crowd was that Ligety skied off course during his first run.
Coming into the 2015 Birds of Prey, Ligety had won his last five starts at Beaver Creek, including a gold-medal performance at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
As this year's races approach, Svindal, Hirscher and Ligety are all attempting to bounce back from injuries with the Olympics looming during February in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.